Reporting of Julia Gillard’s India trip has regularly mentioned Australia’s ‘$15 billion’ international education industry.
In addition to the point I made about the need to deduct earnings by overseas students while in Australia, he adds that estimates of their spending while here are too high. I think he’s right, though a new survey of international students is needed to arrive at a more defensible number.
Universities Australia boss Glenn Withers wrote an article for the Higher Education Supplement defending the $15 billion figure, but though making a couple of good points it is unconvincing overall.
One good point is that the overseas student expenditure figures do not include air fares to Australia or capital outlays (though many of the air fares would be paid to foreign airlines). Another point is that tourist spending by friends and relatives visiting overseas students could be said to be generated by the international student industry. But he gives no reason believe the ABS’s assumptions on spending or why these other sources would bring the total up to $15 billion.
He also argues that applying Birrell’s logic of deducting overseas student earnings would mean that ‘mining exports would reduce by deducting imported machinery, 457 visa worker earnings, and repatriated profits.’ Well yes (though this is slightly different, with education the claim is that the industry never generates the claimed foreign revenue at all, rather than that some of it is paid back overseas), but the mining industry does not use dubious export factoids for political reasons.
Withers also unfairly attacks Birrell’s claimed ‘nativistic enthusiasm’ and ‘mercantilism’, and criticises a non-existent attack on student employment as bad for the economy. In fact, Birrell has come out the current controversies on international students looking better than anyone: he has consistently criticised abuse of the visa system and dodgy colleges, which have now damaged Australia’s reputation as an education provider.
It’s pretty sad that Universities Australia is so committed to spin on international students that it reacts to criticism in this way.